The stunning emergence of the Vegas Golden Knights has left many observers searching for something with which to compare the unprecedented appearance of an expansion team in the NHL finals set to begin Monday night.
The 1967-68 St. Louis Blues made it to the hockey finals in their first year of existence, but the comparison to the Golden Knights is intrinsically flawed because it was produced through a playoff format in which the Blues only played other expansion teams to make the finals.
A much better comparison is to the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” the team that put teamwork ahead of ego to “shock the world” (thank you Muhammed Ali) and win the 1969 World Series.
“There are a lot of teams in all sports who have come from nowhere to somewhere, but a lot of them haven’t closed the deal,” said Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson. “We closed the deal. The teamwork was amazin’.”
As a native New Yorker, 1969 was the greatest sports year ever, with the Mets winning the World Series, the Joe Namath Jets the Super Bowl and the Willis Reed Knicks taking the 1969-70 NBA championship. I gave up on all of those teams, now among the worst run anywhere, long ago. But like all Las Vegans I am taking great civic pride in the Golden Knights.
It’s not just the performance on the ice, it’s the community engagement with the general public, the classy demeanor of ownership and management and the selfless end-to-end playing style that has produced an exhilarating brand of hockey and the wins to go along with it.
2019 will mark 50 years since that great Mets squad that brought together a group of unlikely ballplayers whose teamwork and enthusiasm produced a championship for many baseball fans that had grown tired of the seemingly charmed existence of the Yankees.
I can still vividly recall the pennant drive in which the team vanquished a Hall of Fame-laden Cubs team led by Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins.
The Mets, like the Golden Knights, were made up of a bunch of players others team didn’t want like Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool, Ed Charles, Tommie Agee and others. I can see still Agee’s two circus catches in game three of the World Series against the Orioles like it was yesterday. He hit a homer in that game, also.
Swoboda, not known at all for his fielding prowess, went parallel to the ground in game four to snare Brooks Robinson’s sinking liner with two outs and two on in the ninth inning. The Mets won the game in the 10th.
Swoboda, who didn’t even play in a three-game sweep of the Braves in the National League Championship Series, had only one RBI in the World Series, but that was the game winner of the fifth and final game.
The everyday lineup may have been suspect, but the Mets pitching staff was led by the one, two punch of Tom Seaver (25-7, 2.21 ERA and 208 strikeouts) and Jerry Koosman (17-9, 2.28 ERA and 180 strikeouts).
Part of the beauty of the 1969 Mets is their championship was completely unexpected. If the Golden Knights win Lord Stanley’s Cup the same thing can be said about them. Analogies, especially in sports, are seldom perfect, so it should be noted that when the Mets came into existence in 1962 they were historically bad, winning only 40 of 160 games. They finished 60.5 games behind the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants.
The expansion draft that created them produced a hapless group of baseball misfits. The team made losing a habit under the leadership of Casey Stengel. Stengel seemed constantly befuddled, but was constantly amusing as well, uttering his famous line, “Can’t anybody here play this game.” That classic quote describing the team’s astounding ineptitude was later the title of a Jimmy Breslin book about what was, in all likelihood, the worst team ever.
The achievements of the 1969 Mets must always be looked at in the context of the horrible 1962 team.
For the Golden Knights, there’s really little to compare in the hockey world. Win or lose the Stanley Cup, the team’s success is extraordinary and, perhaps, unique.
We’ll just have to leave it at that.